I have to admit, after trying Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 last fall, I thought I was done with competitive online multiplayer first person shooters. It’s not that I had grown to hate them, but they just felt stagnate. When I watched the Battlefield 1 trailer earlier this month, the setting of which made me raise my eyebrow in interest, I still felt that I would run into the same issues that had been pulling me away from the genre the last couple of years. Players too concerned with kill to death ratios, the grind to find one gun with the right attachments, the number of maps that were really just trying to emulate classic iterations from previous games, and the fact that very few people actually cared about accomplishing objectives were far more likely to outweigh any positives from a World War I setting. To me, the genre had simply become an excuse to talk to my friends as we went through the standard motions of a match. Enter Blizzard Entertainment.
When Blizzard announced in 2014 the long in development mass multiplayer online game Titan was being cancelled, and from the ashes of that game they were developing a competitive online shooter called Overwatch, I was hesitant to believe the idea could work. There were already so many successful franchises in the genre, what could Blizzard possibly offer that would pull players to their game? Well, as it turns out a lot, Blizzard has once again proven that they are simply the best studio in the world when it comes to innovating a genre.Overwatch is a mixture of Team Fortress 2’s objective based combat, intense classic arena shooters such as Quake, and the choke point shootouts of the Call of Duty franchise. Pulling from games such as League of Legends, the game includes a roster of 21 unique characters for players to choose from. They break down into four distinct classes; offensive, defensive, tank, and support. However each character feels unique and can be used for a variety of tasks. D Va is technically a tank class, but her booster rockets and blasters make her just as lethal as any offensive class character at short range. Solider 76 is a classic assault rifle offensive character, while fellow offensive class member Genji is a highly mobile assassin who requires the player to have pinpoint accuracy when throwing his ninja stars.Pulling from the roster of characters, teams of six compete against each other in a series of objective based matches spread out over 12 different maps. These range from escorting payload carts across the map to capturing control points in the allotted time. Each map has its own defined objective, which never changes. A payload map will always be a payload map. This decision is for the better, as it forces players to not only learn the ins and outs required to defend and attack each map, but it also allows for Blizzard to ensure each map has been designed to complement the match’s objective.The maps also complement Overwatch’s best competitive asset: the ability to change characters mid match. Say a team is defending against a payload’s advancement by using a mixture of Bastions and Torbjorns. These two characters use turrets that can cause a high amount of damage at mid and short range. However, they are highly immobile. If the payload team runs into this situation, it may have players switch to a mixture of long range shooters, such as Hanzo and Widow, or fast mobile shooters such as Tracer and Genji. Every tactic in Overwatch has a logical counter. It’s up to your team to recognize and execute the correct counter play.The adjustments and readjustments during a match lead to some of the most engaging competitive online play I’ve experienced in years. There have been so many times that I was sure my team was on the way to being dominated only to find both teams pushing the match into overtime before narrowly escaping with a victory.Regardless of if you win or lose a match, Blizzard has taken care to create a player environment that pulls away from the harsh player interactions found in most modern competitive online shooters. No one ever sees another player’s kill to death ratio. Additionally, at the end of a match, accomplishments from the top four players from both teams are displayed and players vote for the match’s MVP. These accomplishments can be something traditional like the biggest kill streak, but they can also be class specific, such as how much healing a healer does for their team or how much damage a tank blocked during the match. This setup creates a player environment that feels more inviting to inexperienced players as they are no longer ridiculed for their lack offensive talent but instead rewarded for their team contributions.Some may criticize the lack of game modes at launch. For now, the game only includes four match types and two playlists, a standard playlist and a weekly mode. However, anyone familiar with Blizzard should know that they plan to support the game extensively past launch. A competitive mode is coming next month and there are plans for additional maps and characters, both of which will be free to all players.For those players looking for something like the deep leveling system found in the Call of Duty franchise, Blizzard has instead opted for a progression system that rewards cosmetic items for players instead of weapon enhancements. Each character comes with 55 unlocks which range from colorful character skins to emotes and victory poses. You can buy loot packs to unlock this content, but the game rewards you so generously while you play that regular players should never see a real need to purchase the additional content.Overwatch’s strengths greatly outweigh any weaknesses at launch. Despite the variety of modes available, never once during my 30 hours with the game did I feel it’s setup was getting stale. Instead, I find myself still discovering new intricacies in the gameplay, whether they be new routes that are available to mobile characters or how well certain characters can work together as a tag team.On top of that, Overwatch never ceases to impress with it’s colorful cast and detailed settings. All of the attention to detail combines with the excellent gameplay balance to create a first person shooter that very well may be the new benchmark for other studios to judge themselves against. While this might be a surprise to Call of Duty or Destiny fans that have never seen or played Warcraft, Starcraft or Diablo; fans of Blizzard Entertainment know Overwatch is another example of the studio’s ability to create a gold standard in a genre by innovating on the footsteps of previous entities. Time will tell as to the impact Overwatch has on the genre, but for now players should just be glad there is a fresh face in the crowd that is incredibly fun to play.Want to hear more about Overwatch? Subscribe to Geek Versus Games in your favorite podcast app, or click play below.